Global Shapers: Meet the Leader
World Economic Forum
Jan 21, 2016
≫ Official Website of World Economic Forum ≪
Hello, everyone! I am Wonsoon Park, Mayor of Seoul.
I worked for a very long time in civil society as a human rights lawyer, civic activist, and social designer. Then I was elected as the Mayor of Seoul in October 2011. My election as mayor was a new change and innovation for the city. It was the first time that an independent candidate, with no affiliation to a political party, was elected as mayor. It was a break from the traditional convention of electing career politicians or bureaucrats as mayor. It was a manifestation of the citizens’ desire for a new kind of politics, and a new leader who would truly represent the voices of the citizens.
Perhaps I should talk a little more about my background first. I was born into a poor farming family, and grew up in a small but warm community. After entering Seoul National University, I participated in a student protest against the dictatorship of the time, and was arrested and imprisoned. I was expelled from school, but I must say prison provided a better atmosphere than school for reading books and studying. I recommend you try it (just kidding). Later, I passed the national bar exam, and began working as a prosecutor, but the work did not suit me. Instead, I chose the path of a human rights lawyer, and worked to defend the rights of prisoners of conscience, laborers, and students.
When authoritarian rule came to an end and Korea began the transition to a democratic society, I dedicated my career to our civil society. Back then, concepts of civil society and civic movements were still new to Korea. Nevertheless, slowly but surely, civic engagement and civic participation began to bear fruit in Korea.
I founded a civic organization called the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. The PSPD launched a movement for a minimum standard of living, and stressed that welfare should be a priority, not an option, for the government. This movement later became the foundation of the National Basic Living Security Act.
The PSPD also made several hundred laws to stabilize the livelihood of the people and bring about innovation in society. People referred to the PSPD as a “miniature parliament.” I remember the Anti-Corruption Law, in particular, which took almost five years to create and pass. All of the accomplishments of the PSPD can be attributed to the participation of the citizens.
My experiences in civil society, as a human rights lawyer, civic activist, and social designer showed me that even small acts of civic engagement and civic participation could bring about big changes in society.
After being elected as the Mayor of Seoul, I set forth the slogan “the citizens are the mayor” and pledged to become a mayor that would change the lives of the citizens. I also made collaborative governance and innovation the two main principles of city administration. Since then, there have been many changes in Seoul. One by one, the dreams of the citizens are coming true. Today, I would like to share with you some examples.
Climate change is a global challenge. Climate action begins with energy conservation. Successful climate action depends on the participation of the citizens. I think I am good at eliciting the participation of the citizens.
For example, we are carrying out the One Less Nuclear Power Plant initiative. The aim of this initiative is to conserve energy and produce renewable energy, equivalent to the capacity of one nuclear power plant, with the participation of the citizens.
The citizens are participating in an eco-mileage program, through which they can receive incentives for taking part in energy conservation. More than one-sixth of the citizens of Seoul (1.7 million people) are already participating in this program. The citizens are also participating in a campaign to install solar panels on the rooftops of apartments and schools to produce solar energy.
Thanks to the active participation of the citizens, we were successful in achieving the goal of the first phase of this initiative six months ahead of schedule. We reduced 2 million TOE of energy. We raised our energy self-sufficiency rate from 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent. We also created 20,000 new jobs in the process.
The One Less Nuclear Power Plant initiative is a great example for fellow cities in Korea and around the world to learn from. Based on our success in the first phase of the initiative, we began working towards the second phase – “Two Less Nuclear Power Plants.”
Another example is the Owl Bus. How do you get home late at night? In Seoul, citizens take the Owl Bus. Of course, it is not a real owl. The Owl Bus is a bus that is operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and runs from midnight to dawn. It is an innovation created by big data and civic participation.
One university student complained on social media that it was difficult to get home after the subway closes. Many citizens agreed with him. The Seoul Metropolitan Government listened to the opinions of the citizens and deliberated on how to address this issue. After extensive consultations with citizens and experts, we analyzed big data, including 3 billion phone calls between midnight and dawn. We identified the locations that had the highest concentration of people during these late night hours, and began Owl Bus operations for nine different routes.
It was not long before the citizens took to social media and commented on the Owl Buses. We looked over several thousand comments on social media and reflected the citizens’ suggestions to improve the Owl Bus program. Now, the Owl Bus program services more than 6,000 passengers every day and customer satisfaction rate is very high. The Owl Bus is a great example of how big data and civic participation can create an innovation in administration.
By the way, I have more than 1.6 million followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook and other social media. Social media is a great platform for engaging in communication with the citizens. Even communication with people around the world is possible. Together, there is no challenge we cannot tackle.
I believe in the power of citizen participation. Citizen participation is the key to changing the world. I already have a great deal of experience as a human rights lawyer, civic activist, and social designer, avenues through which I was able to change society for the better together with the people. As the Mayor of Seoul, I am striving together with citizens to change the city for the better.
It is no easy job. I grow older day by day. This is me on my inauguration day. This is me now. And this will be me soon.
We are currently living in a period of transition, low growth, and recession. If we look back on history, however, we see that humanity has always overcome the challenges of the era by working together. Through collaboration, we will be able to close the door to the past and open up a new chapter of progress in the future. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is committed to this as well.
I sincerely hope that our short meeting today has given you faith in the power of citizen participation. A dream that we dream together will come true. Thank you very much.